Metal Lesson For Beginners

You'll learn some basic stuff before you get started to play metal music.

Ultimate Guitar
Beginner's Metal Lesson. Alright, the best way to start anything is to jump right into it, and since you probably clicked on this link to learn how to play metal instead of hearing some guy talk, I'll just get started. Metal music (Metallica in particular) was the reason I started playing guitar. It's the most technically and rhythmically challenging mainstream style I've come across, and the musical possibilities within the genre are astounding. I'll start off with a brief explanation of the musical aspect of metal. Most metal music is phrased in either a minor key or a pentatonic blues key. The main riff of Enter Sandman, for example, is in E pentatonic. Knowing what key a song is in helps when trying to improv a solo, something I have to do often. The two scales below are blues pentatonic and minor scales (the note in parentheses is the optional blues note).
I. A Blues Pentatonic, position 1 

II. Amin (A minor) 
Lots of metal songs are based around minor keys, but for some reason, I can't think of any off the top of my head. Oh well, just use the next few lessons and you can write your own. Power Chords. Power chords are cool. If you want to make something sound mean and crunchy, power chords are the way to go. Just in case you're interested, the notes in a power chord are five notes apart within the scale. Let's use Amin again to take a look.
The power chord comes first, then I show you a snippet of the scale, showing that the notes (the starred ones) are five notes apart (that musical distance is a perfect fifth, just in case you were curious). You can expand on power chords in the lick that follows, which comes from a Serapis song entitled Through the Gates of Hell. To play this riff, you use another metal technique called tremolo picking, which basically means pick the notes as fast as you can. I'm only gonna show you the chords and how long to hold each one out, since you just tremolo pick everything. The numbers up above are the beats of the song. Every measure has four beats (or number of times you tap your foot), so I divided it up for you.
   1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4  1  2  3  4

As you can see, power chords aren't the only chords used in this riff. I'll go over the other chords later, but for now, you'll just have to wait. If you were really paying attention, you also would have noticed that the riff is in a minor key (Emin, to be exact). If you did, congratulations! Fourths. Alright, since power chords are also called perfect fifths (or fifths), you should be able to figure out what perfect fourths (or fourths) are. That's right, fourths are two notes that are four notes apart within the scale. In the example above, I use a fourth once. Try to find it. If you saw the
then you're the man! Now, to put everything back into Amin, the minor key of choice for this lesson, I'll phrase it on a lower string. The interval below (the fourth) is four notes apart within the scale, as shown.
Fourths sound pretty cool if two guitars play single notes, a fourth apart. If you know another guitarist, have him play one line of this lick, while you play the other. Again, the counts of the riff are above the staves.
Line 1 
   1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &   1   &   2   &   3   &   4 

Line 2 
   1   &   2   &   3   &   4   &   1   &   2   &   3   &   4       
You can keep repeating that riff until both of your hands fall off. It's that fun!! Anyway, after your hands have been surgically reattached, you can move on to thirds. Thirds are three notes apart. But, while power chords and fourths sound good anywhere on the neck, as long as the root note is in the scale, you have to change the form of thirds so that both notes fit the key. That's the difference between major and minor thirds. While minor thirds are only three half-steps (frets) apart, major thirds are four half-steps apart.
Minor  third  Major  third  
   A--3--        A--7-- 
   E--5--        E--8--
See? In the minor third, the two notes are only three frets away from each other (two frets in between each note) whereas in the major third, the notes are four frets apart (three frets in between each note). The intro to Orion (a Metallica song, hey) uses both of these intervals.
Orion (R.I.P. Cliff) 
 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &  
Octaves are the only other really common metal interval, so I'll go over those really quick with a recognizable little ditty.
   1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &              1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &
D----7---4---5-----          D----5---2---3----- 
A------------------  repeat  A------------------ repeat 
E--5---2---3-------          E--3---0---1-------
Alright, now I'll actually explain octaves. Octaves are the same note, 12 half steps apart. Since the musical alphabet only has seven letters (A, B, C, D, E, F, and G), notes that have the same name may not be exactly the same pitch. For example, the open string and the 12th fret of the same string on your guitar are called the same note (E and E, A and A, D and D, etc. ) but one is definitely higher than the other (usually, the one on the 12th fret, unless the intonation on your guitar is way off). Anyway, octaves can also be played like a power chord, but skip the middle string. Octave A's
Alright, if you're wondering why I didn't explain the other chord in the Through the Gates of Hell excerpt, that's because it isn't a common chord at all. I've seen the interval (minor sixth) in a few Amortis songs and an Yngwie Malmsteen song, but other than that, it isn't commonly used. Just for kicks though, I'll include a little chart explaining intervals and how far apart they are (remember, one half-step=one fret). 0 half-steps = unison (same note) 1 half-step = minor second (sounds like crap) 2 half-steps = major second (stay away from seconds) 3 half-steps = minor third (Orion thing) 4 half-steps = major third 5 half-steps = perfect fourth (used in lots of Megadeth songs) 6 half-steps = augmented fourth or diminutive fifth (Slayer uses this interval every once in a while) 7 half-steps = perfect fifth (the almighty power chord) 8 half-steps = minor sixth 9 half-steps = major sixth (play the root note of a key, then a major sixth above, then a perfect fourth above the root. NBC!) 10 half-steps = minor seventh (bluesy) 11 half-steps = major seventh (bluesier) After that, you're back to octaves and then weird jazz intervals that don't need to be talked about, like ninths and augmented 13ths; all sorts of evil, bad-sounding crap; ) So that obviously ends the metal lesson, so if you have any questions e-mail, or if you want to put in an advance order on Serapis' demo CD (we're recording it now, should be done within the month), just ask, we'll send you more info.

59 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Haha, people that think they're superior to another simply because their grammar is better are even more vexing.
    t3h guitar n00b
    Great lesson. Although i already knew powerchords i didnt know any of the theory on any of this, you got my 10
    This is a good lesson great and simple and in all good faith nu metal will be destroyed by my hands alone oldies rule!!!!!
    Death's Pariah
    Nice lesson, really liked how you actually explained how power chords and the scales are tied together instead of what my guitar teacher does (this power chord happens to be in the a key... memorize that damnit!) haha, anyways great work!
    awesome lesson.....cleared up so much stuff for me in that tiny lesson.
    Hey, Thanks for the beginners metal lesson. I was looking for something that could help me play metallica, and when you said particullarly metallica i was shocked. Thanks
    metallica = best band ever. good lesson... but i knew it already. very helpful for beginners i think thanks for the lesson
    St. Angry
    MetallicA Rules! You should have put Enter Sandman as an example, but other than that, pretty good lesson. GuitarKid, dont use all that space. what a waste of bandwidth. (Joke) ha. Enter The Unforgiven because you are Of wolf and Man and Nothing else Matters cause im Hoilier than Thou'.
    wooow,, just learned that I should put it back in to key if i am playing (for example) a third. Thanks!!!
    Jawshuwa wrote: Haha, people that think they're superior to another simply because their grammar is better are even more vexing.
    There is no excuse to write "n e gud" instead of "any good". Retarded cambodian children can write in English better than that. Anyway... I thought this was a pretty good lesson. You cover the basics without diggin' too deeply into theory, but still showed some of the theory as necessary. I think this is the best metal lesson posted on the site. I already knew all the information separately, but you sorta put it together for me.
    ffs will you people stop arguing over which is played more dropped or standard because the fact of the matter is it's not important its a personal preference all dropped tuning does is drop the 6th string by two semitones so the basic power chord shape (root /perfect fifth/ root) are all in a bar chord and thus allowing us to play a semitone lower than standard. but this can get annoying for playing scales for me in my opinion anyway all my hero's play in standard anyways awesome lesson ps: should of included pinch harmonics but people can find them everywhere else
    Is this guy stupid? Minor 2nds (or flat) are used in so much music that its not even funny. a flat second gives it that middle eastern feel.phrygian I think?
    pretty good lesson for me but i didn't understand all the note stuff cause i'm a tab reader. Still learned a lot and i'm an intermediate guitar player
    i agree with stoneburner here....minor 2nds have a good sound!.....Lamb Of God - 11th hour's chorus has pretty unique sound cause of the E minor 2nd....AND...i do think its its funny when he said it sounded like crap... and good lession! thumbs up!..
    Eh.. I sort of gave up when you said D and G is something other than G5. Drop D? eh.. I can get D5 with an open A and D, and get an A5 with the open E and A. Dropping down to an A is harder in drop D. Really Drop D is only good in the keys of D and sometimes E.
    right when he mentions fouths and playing fourths apart , is that technique what avenged sevenfold use? like say burn it down after the heavy intro syn will play a high string arpeggio and zacky, sounds like he plays it in a different key can anyone explain what the they are doing?!?!1
    Whoa even though I am not a beginner, I still think this is a great lesson for begginners. Hopefully this will help people develop new skills. And I hope more people can help us start making more music with good guitarist and great singers. Send me a message if any if you guys need help in making great riffs and if anybody would like to share some great techniques they learned that will become better guitar players and guitsr soloist. You guys can email me at to ask any questions or maybe you guys can teach me something either way. I could learn some more because I am good but not the very best.
    Thumbs up for this lesson too. It's amazing to see that there are at least 4 useful metal lessons for beginners! Nice going man
    tightpantsXcore wrote: That was a kool lesson, i new al the stuff bout power chords but all the stuff bout the half notes ect is very helpful 4 me (begginner) Im a begginner guiatrist wiv a Yamaha Pacifica, is it n e gud? learn to spell, idiot. Your writing is an eye sore. This lesson is pretty good. I liked the theory part.
    Haha, people who can't spell are so annoying.
    Good lesson but i was a bit confused, perhaps you could explain some of the meanings like pentatonic and others. Other then that great lesson!
    great lesson. i loved all the info on different chords and stuff instead of a bunch of slipknot riffs or something. good examples as well.
    Drop D, what are you a ***ing nu metal kid? I think the lesson was nice for begginners and it gives the basic shit. One suggestion is that you should have put the B string in there for 7 string guitarists and added power chords to modes. But thanks for the lesson, I already knew it but I bet it will be helpful for beginners.
    Most metal songs r played in minor bcause this is like the unhappy thing and it kind of like mostly depressin stuff that i still love
    That was a kool lesson, i new al the stuff bout power chords but all the stuff bout the half notes ect is very helpful 4 me (begginner) Im a begginner guiatrist wiv a Yamaha Pacifica, is it n e gud?
    Gr1m R34p3r
    Good lesson man! It's kinda funny, cause I take guitar lessons, and my teacher and I are in the middle of Theory, and for some reason, you explain that a lot better than he does... Nice work!
    Eyehategod and borknagar and arch enemy and dark tranquility and carnal forge and fireball ministry and moonspell and tigers and bears Oh my... btw nice lesson
    That was a kool lesson, i new al the stuff bout power chords but all the stuff bout the half notes ect is very helpful 4 me (begginner) Im a begginner guiatrist wiv a Yamaha Pacifica, is it n e gud?
    learn to spell, idiot. Your writing is an eye sore. This lesson is pretty good. I liked the theory part.
    Other than the insult to jazz, this was definately a good intro to the vastness that is metal.